Orlando City B finished its first home stretch of 2019 Friday night as it now prepares for its first road game in Texas this week. Facing FC Tucson, Toronto FC II, South Georgia Tormenta FC, and Forward Madison FC, the Young Lions lost three of the four games, with their only point coming in a draw against Tormenta FC. With four games played, what have we learned about this young team so far?
Early Learning Experiences
The most obvious takeaway from the first two games was the poor decision making. Both games showed the team’s inexperience as moments were too big for the young players. In the first game, as the intensity increased, poor decision-making led to fouls in dangerous areas and, eventually, a bad challenge from Randy Mendoza that resulted in a straight red card.
Against Toronto, the same problem arose, with the most glaring example being when Emmanuel Hagan gave the ball away and responded with a challenge for his second yellow card of the game. In both games, the red cards were a deciding factor as the opponents were able to control the remainder of play and take all three points.
“Sometimes with a team without experience, these things happen because they have too much passion to play the sport,” OCB Head Coach Fernando Jose De Argila Irurita said after the second game. “They don’t have the experience to control emotions.”
In the following two games, the experience paid off. When the intensity rose, the players didn’t respond as they had previously, instead focusing on the task at hand. The most obvious example came in the most recent game against Forward Madison FC. After a loss of possession in the final third, Nathan Simeon remained on foot to challenge the attacker rather than leaving his feet, which would’ve likely resulted in a red card. Instead, the result was a goal kick.
Maintaining Their Identity
OCB considers its identity to be using possession to control the tempo and rhythm of the game, something that it’s been able to do at times but not consistently. While the team ended up chasing the first two games a man down, it took the lead in the last two matches. The opponents came back in each of these games, with Tormenta FC scoring four minutes into second half injury time and Madison coming back to get the 2-1 win.
Maintaining the team’s identity throughout the game, especially when the Young Lions have the lead, has been pointed out by the coaches as something that the team needs to continue working on.
“We need to continue believing in the identity and we need to continue defending forward,” OCB Assistant Coach Jose Silva Caparros said after the draw against Tormenta FC. “We cannot drop the team inside our own box against a team that is taller than you.”
“We need to follow our identity for 90 minutes,” Irurita added sternly the following week. “Not just for 45 minutes.”
Lack of Goals
OCB has only scored three goals in its first four games, but it’s not for a lack of opportunities. Terrific buildup through the midfield has provided opportunities for the strikers but too many of the shots have been off target. In the first two games, the Young Lions out-shot opponents, but 10 of those shots in each game were off target. This statistic has improved over the previous two games, with only five shots off target against Tormenta FC and six against Madison, despite having a similar number of total shots.
The lack of goals can be widely attributed to the lack of production by the strikers. The team has been playing with three up top, usually William Bagrou, Ates Diouf, and Koby Osei-Wusu, but only Osei-Wusu has found the net more than once so far this season. This lack of production has led to young midfielders like Jordan Bender and Luc Granitur saying they feel the need to try to provide a spark by scoring.
Making things more difficult going forward are the injuries that have occurred. Bagrou, Diouf, and Osei-Wusu started each of the first three games but both Bagrou and Diouf came off injured the past two weeks. Bagrou suffered a concussion in the final minutes against Tormenta FC, which may keep him sidelined for a few weeks. Diouf then came off injured with a lower back injury Friday night. While the team’s medical staff deemed it not serious, it’s still a concern for the team going forward.
Young Midfielders Shining Brightly
Most Orlando City fans will have their eyes this season on 17-year-old midfielder Bender and 16-year-old midfielder Granitur. The two early signings for OCB have been the most promoted players to come out of the academy and both are seen as potential first-team players.
It’s been a difficult start for Bender, who spent much of the preseason with the first team. An ankle injury kept him out of the first game against FC Tucson and the third game against Tormenta FC, while he didn’t get off the bench Friday night against Madison. The 73 minutes he played against Toronto FC II showed what the team has been missing in his absence. He was the most dangerous player on the field for the Young Lions, causing trouble for the Reds’ back line and creating opportunities for his strikers.
Granitur came off the bench in limited minutes during the first two games of the season, playing fewer than 15 minutes in each one. He was about to come on again late against Tormenta FC but was pulled back for tactical reasons. Friday night, he started his first professional game and went 90 minutes.
The 16-year-old showed flashes of what he could do in the first two games, though he was playing against tired opponents. He made much less of a difference when he was on the field for 90 minutes, although he did draw the penalty that led to OCB’s only goal. At such a young age, you can see why he was brought into OCB as he has shown the promise that the club teased. While not as far along as Bender and some other players, he appears to have a high ceiling going forward.
Through four games, nearly all of the players on the 28-man roster have appeared, with 24 being provided minutes and 22 starting. Rafael Santos and Jahlane Forbes have yet to appear due to injury. Only five players — Diouf, Osei-Wusu, Simeon, Serginho, and Steven Hernandez — have appeared in all four games.
The reason for the different lineups is simply that OCB is a team for development rather than a team looking for results. While the players want to win, the focus continues to be on developing the players for the next level.
“We work for the young,” Irurita said about his team. “We’re not trying to compete with all of the professional players. We’re trying to have a level of play that is higher than in the academy league games so they (the players) evolve faster.”
With the continued focus of the team, you will be unlikely to see a consistent lineup in the near future. While this makes it difficult for the players to achieve their desired results, it adds the competition that helps the players develop quicker and improve.
“It’s a lot of competition every day,” Brazilian defender Matheus Silva said.
A Goalkeeping Standout
A player that Orlando City fans may be familiar with is Juliano Chade. The Brazilian goalkeeper is on loan from Athletico Paranaense and has started to make a name for himself in USL League One. After the team started Luca Mancuso and Christian Herrera in the first two games, Chade got his first start against Tormenta FC, coming away with USL League One Team of the Week and Save of the Week honors. His 10 saves currently rank third in the league behind Madison’s Ryan Coulter (11) and the Chattanooga Red Wolves’ Alex Mangels (12).
Given the purpose of OCB, it’s likely that we’ll see more of Mancuso and Herrera in the future. Both of these goalkeepers also had strong games and fans should be excited to see each develop as the season continues. But after the completion of the first home stand, Chade has come away as one of the early stars of the team. He will definitely be a player to keep an eye on as the season continues.
Orlando City B has completed its first home stand of the season, providing the first glimpses of several players that may dress for the first team in the future. The growth and development is already noticeable and will continue to be as the season wears on.